By Mitch Phillips and Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Scottish Rugby Union chief Mark Dodson said he is ready to launch a legal challenge to prevent World Cup organisers cancelling his country’s game against Japan on Sunday – a measure that would almost certainly eliminate the Scots.
A decision on the game in Yokohama will be made on Sunday when officials are able to assess the level of damage from Typhoon Hagibis, which has already forced the cancellation of two games due to be played on Saturday.
One of those – New Zealand v Italy – eliminated the Italians and World Rugby are adamant that the rules, which say cancelled pool games cannot be rescheduled, must be applied identically across the board.
Should the Yokohama match be cancelled, Scotland and Japan would receive two points each, sending Japan through and almost certainly eliminating the Scots – with Ireland also advancing.
Dodson says that there is a “force majeure” clause that should enable the game to be played on a delayed date and slammed the officials for undermining the integrity of the tournament.
World Rugby replied by saying they are disappointed by his comments when they are trying to find a solution and with public safety at risk.
“We took legal advice on the participation agreement and were told there is flexibility in the schedule,” Dodson told a news conference in Yokohama, adding that he was not sure if there would be time to raise a legal case.
“We are asking for a 24 hour delay so the game can be played in perfect safety. It’s a huge, pivotal game and our view is that it doesn’t sit right with us, it isn’t just.”
Claiming that Scotland were “already winners in the court of public opinion,” he echoed the comments of Italy captain Sergio Parisse when adding: “I think most people feel that if it was one of the economic powerhouses of the game — let’s just say New Zealand — perhaps more thought would have been given to a flexible approach.”
World Rugby later issued a statement saying: “It is disappointing that the SRU should make such comments at a time when we are doing everything we can to enable all Sunday’s matches to take place as scheduled, and when there is a real and significant threat to public safety owing to what is predicted to be one of the largest and most destructive typhoons to hit Japan since 1958.”
Many frustrated Scots will see the statement as more evidence of World Rugby favouring the home nation because of wanting a tier-two team, and particularly the host, in the knockout phase.
They are still stinging from the 2015 tournament when they were denied a place in the semi-finals by an incorrect last-minute penalty that handed Australia victory at Twickenham.
Last week too there was general incredulity when Samoa were penalised for a rarely-policed crooked scrum feed in the last minute of the match against Japan — allowing Japan to regain possession and score the fourth try they needed for a bonus point that could prove decisive, at Scotland’s expense.
And it is not just the Scots who raised an eyebrow at the Pool A schedule, which gives Japan a week between each of their matches while everyone else in the tournament has at least one short turnaround.
The row is set to rumble through the weekend, with all eyes on the skies. Conditions in the Tokyo area were still calm on Friday night and the forecast is good for Sunday – the question is how much damage will be done in between.
Fans who bought tickets for the cancelled matches through official channels have already received emails saying refunds will be paid automatically to their account. Tickets bought from “unauthorised secondary sources” will not be refunded.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips and Jack Tarrant, editing by Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis)